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'Today is bigger than baseball': Sunset High School honors graduate killed in Afghanistan

The memorial baseball game for John Pelham brought the community together to honor the fallen soldier 8 years after his death.

BEAVERTON, Oregon — The Sunset High School baseball team and community remembered one of their own Friday night. Army Specialist John Pelham was killed in action in Afghanistan on Feb. 12, 2014. Pelham graduated from Sunset in 2012 and played four years of baseball while he was there. Six years ago, the team began playing a memorial baseball game to honor Pelham.

“This has got to be one of my favorite days of the year,” said Sunset senior pitcher, Peter Coakley. “Both my grandparents served and I just love what this stands for… [John] is a real inspiration for all of us."

During the game, players wore special hats embroidered with "JP8," Pelham’s initials and jersey number. American flags lined the baseball field and the Patriot Guard Riders led a procession onto the field before the game. 

“I just told [the team] that today is bigger than baseball,” said Sunset coach John Barnes. “The best thing you can do is play as hard as you possibly can, win lose or draw, leave it all on the field.”

Pelham’s father, Wendall Pelham threw out the first pitch. He said he's touched by how the community remembers his son every year.

“Unless we talk about them, we will forget them,” said Pelham. “And the most powerful thing I think we can do as a community is remember how expensive freedom costs, and I don't mean monetarily.”

John Pelham played left field for the Apollos; before the game, the team revealed a new banner in left field, honoring him.

“Every spring his name will be up there in left field,” said Barnes. “It's a really cool deal.”

During the game, players also honored 2008 Southridge High School graduate, Army PFC Andrew Keller. Keller was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2012, just 18 months before Pelham, and also played baseball.

“The boys played against each other one year,” recalled Wendall Pelham with a smile.

Besides baseball, John Pelham's legacy shines on through a special nonprofit called Live Like John. It supports the nation's military Gold Star Families and veterans.